Police Commissioner Anthony Batts talks to reporters, which is a big deal

As he strode into his second floor conference room, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts joked about giving reporters "a foot rub" and said, laughing, "welcome to my home."

Then he answered questions (or dodged them) for a half hour about whether he wants more power to fire officers who break the law, why the city's murder rate is so stubbornly high, and why the department's efforts at transparency are still so opaque.

"We're moving in the right direction," Batts said several times. 

And that is probably a fair assessment. No chief in recent memory has held regular press availabilities, and Batts touted some progress on the "transparency" front, saying the department had, for the first time, posted its general orders online.

The general orders include all the policies and procedures police are supposed to be trained in and follow on the job.

In 2013, the department refused to divulge the document even after a judge said it had to.  

Putting them online would be a big concession to normality. But the general orders were not apparent on a search of the department's website.

And that is kind of how it all went. 

Reporters asked if Batts wants more power to fire dirty, brutal, or incompetent cops. He answered with diplomacy, saying he has to follow the rules that exist today, which allow him to take action only after a trial board "sustains" a misconduct charge against an officer. That comes several steps into the process.

He artfully dodged reporters' efforts to get him to take a position on legislative efforts to amend the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights—which some people, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—have said makes disciplining police too cumbersome. Police just enforce the law, Batts said.

Batts touted his department's effort to get police officers out of their cars and more engaged with the community, including commanders who hosted 150 kids in a camp last summer. He says he hopes to have 300 this year. Batts also highlighted his department's much-lower incidences of police shootings, lawsuits, and complaints against officers, citing a 54 percent drop in that figure.

But Batts did not have the data handy, and when reporters for The Sun asked why they can never get the original documents and data from the department, Batts punted.

"We're going in the right direction," Batts said.


Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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